Oatsurae Jirokichi Koshi / Jirokichi the Rat
Benshi performance in Japanese by Ichiro Kataoka
Musical accompaniment by Tatsu Aoki Quartet
Introduction by Phil Kaffen, lecturer, Department of Cinema and Media Studies, and the College
As the only silent era film directed by Ito Daisuke, Japan’s first great filmmaker, to remain almost completely intact, Jirokichi the Rat has secured its place in film history. But the film is much more than a historical curiosity. Teaming up with maverick cameraman Karasawa Hiromitsu, and the great star Okochi Denjiro at the height of his popularity, Ito manages to craft an extraordinary story about the difficulty of righting wrongs. Jirokichi flips the familiar tale of a chivalrous thief (a lá Robin Hood) on its head by placing its anti-hero between two women (played by sisters, one a vamp—Fushimi Naoe, the other an ingénue—Fushimi Nobuko) who reveal his less-than-chivalrous side. Ito thus not only sharpens and deepens his characters and their contradictions, revealing multiple sides to each, but also broadens the palette of the generic chanbara (sword-fighting film), weaving a rambunctious and politically charged spectacle into something at once more nuanced and more urgent.
Standing to the side of the screen, benshi provide voice-over, insert commentary, and assume the voices of the characters in the film. During the silent era, they often received top billing as the main attraction. Kataoka Ichiro is one of the most respected benshi in Japan. He began his studies in 2002 with the undisputed master benshi Sawato Midori, quickly becoming her star pupil. He also studied traditional kami shibai (storytelling accompanied by picture cards) with Akiyama Houei, and violin with Fukuoka Utaji. He performs internationally as a benshi, acts in film and theater, and works as a voice actor for video games. He teaches and writes about his experiences as a benshi, drawing on his collection of over 600 78s, all recordings of benshi from the silent era.
Accompaniment provided by a quartet of musicians featuring Tatsu Aoki, Chicago bassist and Associate Professor, Film, Video and New Media Department, School of the Art Institute of Chicago; and Edward Wilkerson, Chicago saxophonist, composer, arranger, and founder/director of jazz octet 8 Bold Souls and 25-member performance ensemble Shadow Vignettes.
(Daisuke Ito, 1931, Japan, black and white, silent, subtitled in English, DVD, 63 min)
Co-sponsored by The Japan Committee.